Beginner’s guide to clay pigeon shooting

We visit Holland & Holland's Shooting Grounds for a morning's instruction.

The importance of a beginner’s first exposure to shooting should not be underestimated. Like any fieldsport, good initial instruction will be pay dividends in the long run and will ensure good habits are ingrained from the outset.

Here’s our beginner’s guide to clay pigeon shooting for new shots hoping to make top gun.

If you haven’t shot before, your first lesson will be dedicated to safe and correct gun handling, with the hope that it becomes instinctive. The golden rule is to never point a closed gun within 45 degrees of anybody or anything you don’t wish to shoot and always treat a closed gun as if it is loaded.

The next step is to gather whether you will be shooting left or right handed and whether you will be shooting with one or both eyes open. Around 80% of men have a right master eye and around 80% of women have a left master eye. If you are able to shoot with both eyes open, it can be a huge advantage as you enjoy the benefits of binocular vision. To establish your eye dominance, try this straightforward test:

Pick an object across the room and point at it. Now close your left eye. If you can still see the object at the end of your finger this means that you are right eye dominant. If the object has moved away from your finger, open your left eye and close your right, without moving your hand. If you’re left eye dominant, the object will now be at the end of your finger.

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The benefit of having a shooting lesson at a reputable shooting school is that your instructor will be able to advise on the right sort of gun for you. There are a number of factors to take into consideration such as stock length, whether you are left or right handed, gun weight, calibre and configuration.

Ladies physique usually demands a different shaped stock to that of men. Their higher cheekbone structure generally requires a higher comb and the stock may need to be shorter. The toe of the stock may need to be rounded off or reduced to accommodate the different chest shape and dimensions.

Credit: James Bedford

Credit: James Bedford

You will learn to shoot a number of different clays which mimic the flight of game (birds and rabbits). The stands will fire the clays from a multitude of positions to test your shooting skills. Your instructor will show you the path of the clay first (you will always have a crosser, an incomer, a going away and an overhead) and knowing where the clay is coming from and going to is a huge advantage. Learn to visualise the path of the clay and, once your instructor has set you up correctly, trust your instinct – in some cases you will have to shoot ahead of the clay’s path which feels very alien at first.

There is nothing worse than being cold, damp or both when out on the field. Sensible clothing is required and should take into consideration the weather and time of year. Ear and eye protection are crucial, as is sturdy footwear – you need to be steady on your feet when handling a gun. Alongside beautiful sporting guns, Holland & Holland also produce a beautiful range of traditional and technically advanced shooting attire for both men and women.

After a full morning’s shooting, break out the hip flask and warm the cockles with a shot of whiskey. In my experience, Royal Salute always slips down well.

We went shooting with British Polo Day to mark the launch of the 2015 British Polo Day Global Series.

Individual lessons at the Holland & Holland Shooting Grounds start at £110. For further information please contact: Holland & Holland Shooting Grounds, Ducks Hill Road, Northwood, Middlesex HA6 2ST; 01923 825349;